Is the USGA Out of Bounds?

American golf’s ruling body appears poised to begin sailing off the edge of its universe.

Thrash TalkAs we chug into Labor Day weekend, the promise of “back to school” teases our frazzled nerves, the end of the golf season is just becoming visible on the distant horizon, and a crucial date has come and gone. August 1 marked the final day of the USGA’s invitation for commentary on the proposed changes in golf club grooves. This likely rule change, as well as the various USGA studies which allegedly justify the change, have got me thinking: who, exactly, is being served here?

If we steer clear of the minutiae in these discussions – the specifics about things like the performance of square grooves, the aerodynamics of the launch of a golf ball, philosophical discussions of the playing style of touring professionals – one’s opinion on these matters often boils down to his or her conception of the USGA’s mission.

USGA LogoAh, the mission statement. The darling of modern, corporate governance, of total quality management. The USGA website does not list a mission statement, but their television tag line “for the good of the game” certainly could form the basis of one. The website also says that the organization is the governing body of golf, and is run “by golfers, for golfers.”

So let’s consider how this impending rule change is for the good of the game, and how it is serving the interests of golfers.

From the inception of the game, probably a couple of shepherds whacking stones into rabbit holes with their shepherd’s crooks a few hundred years ago, it has been, and will always be, primarily a form of recreation. A sport. Of course in our society, sports are both participatory and spectator diversions, so “for the good of the game” and “for golfers” depends on which game – the one we play or the one we watch – you are talking about. And they ain’t the same thing. I don’t care how good the handicap system is, how devout you are to the One Rule Book, or how much your driver or putter might resemble Tiger’s – the game they play on the PGA Tour bears about as much similarity to what we play on the weekends as the Olympic Marathon does to the Frog Jump of Calaveras County.

So when it comes to something like a rules issue on equipment, whose interests should come first? For me, the answer to this question is obvious: the recreational golfer.

GroovesWhy? Because without the recreational player, everything else goes away. Should the golf courses, our game’s hallowed grounds, be protected? Well, without recreational golfers, there wouldn’t be any great golf clubs, would there? How about the beauty, integrity, and tradition of the elite, competitive game? The rich history of noble amateur champions of a century ago, the first great professional players of the 20th century, and today’s superstars provide one of the greatest spectator experiences in sports. Doesn’t this help grow the game? Sure, but again, without avid, recreational players, you lose the core of the fan base, as well as the breeding grounds for tomorrow’s champions.

The entire game and culture of golf today is based on the fact that the game has broad appeal. Whether you depend on golf for your bread and butter or as a solitary escape from your actual life, you want and need millions of willing participants to keep the blood flowing.

Which makes me wonder why on earth the USGA would want to try to make the game harder by enacting new rules on square grooves in golf clubs, or whatever else may be waiting in the wings. The USGA has been mum on the results of their comprehensive golf ball study, but many in the golf industry worry that the groove rule may be merely a trial balloon for drastic new ball regulations. And not to make the ball fly further or straighter, either.

I already had my say on the groove rule, and the purpose here is not to revisit this in detail. But in simple terms, the purpose of the rule is to make the game harder. Yeah, there are many layers of this onion – the USGA believes the rule won’t make the game any harder for recreational golfers, just the pros, and the rule may address distance issues indirectly – but peel them all away and you have a group of guys in New Jersey who think the game has gotten too easy.

But if you want golf to succeed, to attract new players and keep the existing ones, wouldn’t it be better to make the game easier, not harder?

Two ladies in their 60s can go out on a tennis court for an hour, pat the ball back and forth to one another, get a little exercise, and have a fantastic time. In golf it’s not so easy. The game already takes months or years to learn to play passably well. It is a time-consuming game, much moreso than other sports, and one’s enjoyment is clearly enhanced when you spend this time actually hitting the ball, not looking for it or walking back to the pro shop to buy another dozen for the back nine.

Yes, it’s not sport without challenge. But however good golf equipment may be today – and it’s mighty good – it is laughable to think it has eliminated or even made a dent in the challenge of the game, at least for 99-plus percent of us. Short of some sort of George Jetson-esque, robotic golf club that swings itself on the push of a button, and within existing equipment limitations, just about anything that can be done to make the game easier and more appealing to average golfers should be applauded, not abolished.

I have heard many arguments to the contrary. A popular one suggests modern equipment doesn’t help recreational players much at all, but helps elite players significantly. This leads to toughening of standards of golf course set up for professional events, as tournament directors and private clubs battle back to avoid being “embarassed” by low scores. These standards eventually spill over to golf courses played mostly by recreational players, or so it is argued, as the average player and greens committee member tries to emulate what they see on TV.

It might take an entire column to convince some of you, but I find this argument to be Grade A, U.S. Prime Crapola. Everyone has a different definition of easy, and we all want different things out of the game, but anyone who debates the issue honestly cannot deny that, in comparison to the implements of past generations, modern golf equipment makes the act of hitting a golf ball in the air and straight much, much easier. I realize that this argument may not be compelling to most golfers under age 40 or so today, since they have likely never played with a persimmon driver with a heavy steel shaft, or a small, thin-soled blade iron. And even for those who have, the performance improvements of various technologies (graphite shafts, titanium, etc.) have been somewhat gradual over the last fifteen years or so. But if you doubt, drag out some of those old sticks and give ’em a whirl.

As to the matter of more difficult course set ups, I just don’t believe this is happening on a broad scale for the majority of public, municipal type courses, and probably most private clubs that do not host high level competitive events. But even if it is, I would assert that it is more out of machismo and hero-worship than a of a genuine need to preserve the challenge of golf for the average player.

Zip Grooves
Cleveland’s new “Zip” grooves are as large as the law allows… for now. But what good will changing the law do me?

For me, the only way the USGA’s recent posture on equipment regulation makes any sense is if their primary focus is on the elite, professional game, coupled with an ego-fueled compulsion to somehow protect us from the booming drives and low scores professional golfers.

I guess anything can go too far, but really, what’s wrong with professional golfers shooting 62 or 63, as opposed to the 68 or 69 of thirty years ago? We’re talking about a couple of hundred golfers among millions in the world. I would much rather see them make special allowances in course set up for the high level competitions for these guys, rather than change the rules and make the game harder for a couple of million hackers.

Maybe you like tradition, or even the form of the game you grew up with. Perhaps you aren’t convinced that better equipment necessarily translates to a better sporting experience. These are reasonable points to argue, but the game cannot exist without change. Well, I take that back, it can. There is a sport that has existed for decades without change, made known to me by the transcript of an interview with David Fay. “Court Tennis,” also known as “Real” or “Royal” tennis, is the indoor, precursor game to modern, lawn tennis. Enthusiasts of this game have kept it essentially in its original form, and as a result there are a total of 42 courts in the world with maybe a couple of hundred people actually playing the game.

Golf must change, and will change. The question is whether we choose to oppose the forces of change, or try to understand and grow from them.

I invite anyone to read the USGA’s reports on spin generation. They are tremendously detailed, thorough, scientific papers that describe months of painstaking research by some very talented, intelligent scientists. The studies must have cost the USGA a small fortune. Irrespective of whether you buy the USGA’s argument on square grooves, ask yourself how that effort helps you, the average golfer.

26 thoughts on “Is the USGA Out of Bounds?”

  1. The game – and the players – exist on a gradient. You’re at one point on the gradient, and I’m ever so slightly closer to the game the pros play. My perspective comes from that of a 2.6 handicap golfer.

    The groove change, if it goes through, will not make the game any harder for the “average” golfer – those that make up the bulk of the gradient. It won’t make it any easier, either – I grant you that. It will affect those at the “good” end of the gradient, with diminishing effects as you slide down the gradient (and up in handicap).

    For me, it has nothing to do with “a bunch of guys in New Jersey who think the game has gotten too easy.” It has a lot to do with returning some sanity to golf’s upper levels – my game included. I’m tired of watching pros hit to puns tucked just over bunkers… and not caring that they’re in the rough when they do so. Less spin from the rough will force pros to think more and will potentially allow for course setups that aren’t teetering on the edge of reason just to prevent -40 from winning each week.

    I’ve spun a golf ball backwards (admittedly only a foot) from wet rough before with a 54° wedge. From 25 yards. That ain’t right.

    I played persimmon woods. I played balata. I played thin-soled irons (still do). The game is easier now with our big-headed drivers and bigger grooves, but the grooves only made it easier for the top portion of that gradient, the golfers who could take advantage of those grooves. If something can be done which makes the game the pros play a bit more like the game you and most every other golfer plays – without bifurcation – I’m for it.

    It has nothing to do with “ego-fueled compulsion” and I think it’s somewhat silly to second-guess the reasoning the USGA has given. The USGA ain’t perfect, but I think the test results show perfectly well why they’re doing this: they believe hitting the ball into the rough should result in some sort of penalty, be it ½ shot or ¼ shot or whatever, and that currently that’s not the case. I believe they see the (possible) groove regulation as a way of re-balancing part of the game. So be it.

    You’d rather they make special allowances in course setup? They already do! They tuck pins, firm up greens, putt them at lightning speeds, and grow rough much longer than you’ll find almost anywhere, among other things. Why widen the gap between the game the pros play and the game we play when a rules tweak can shift it in the other direction?

    And you know as well as I do that the distance separating “pro” and “average” in golf is shorter than that of any other major sport in the world. We can use the same equipment and face the same challenges. Good luck getting Roger Clemens to come to your church league softball game.

  2. JP, you’re listed on the staff page as an 11 handicap. I’m a 1.2 index and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the grooves have changed the way I play golf. It’s “dumbed it down” for me. I’m not long enough to play true “bomb and gouge,” but I no longer fear short-siding myself because I can generate enough spin greenside with my lob wedge to get up and down from virtually anywhere. I no longer aim for the preferred side of the fairway because I can spin the ball from the rough just fine, so if I have to carry a bunker instead of having an opening, it’s all good! (I guess that’s “bomb and gouge,” but I’m no bomber!)

    You seem to believe that changing the grooves won’t affect “me,” but clearly it does, and I support it. I want to see proper strategy enforced a bit more than it is now.

    You’re an 11, so you’re probably happy to shoot in the lower 80s. This rule likely doesn’t apply to you much. But where do you draw the line between what the USGA should care about and what they shouldn’t? Pro golfers and good amateurs (and me) are golfers too. I don’t support separate rules because that’s drawing a line too (bifurcation), and I’m well aware of the vast difference between the game I play and the game Tiger plays, but Tiger’s a golfer just like me. Just like you. I’m no hippie, but everyone counts, and that’s one of golf’s many beauties. The USGA faces a tough task: having rules for everyone. Last time I checked, “everyone” didn’t just mean those who play the game for fun and have a double-digit handicap.

  3. Allan:

    Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion.

    I should have known that any discussion of the groove rule would generate strong opinions. But my intent was to use the groove issue simply to introduce the debate on the proper mission of the USGA.

    I have no reason to doubt anything you’ve said about the performance of the grooves. Even an 11 index chopper such as I makes decent contact from the rough often enough to occasionally see the benefit, and I know the irons I have now are far better than previous ones I’ve had. Ditto on greenside shots, with lob wedges, U grooves, and urethane balls.

    But I guess what I’m saying is that, to paraphrase Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in the whole vast configuration of things in golf, the groove performance issue doesn’t really mean that much to me.

    I read an article by Henry Cotton in which he argued that the steel shaft was drastically reducing the importance of shotmaking in the game, because the performance characteristics made yards “cheap.” This, he argued, obviated the need to learn how to milk yards out of drives by various trajectories, shaping, etc. I read something similar from a prominent, early 20th century pro about the evils of having matched sets of clubs, because they eliminated the skill in learning how to play different shots of different distances from the same club.

    Every technological innovation that comes along changes the game. Some skills become obsolete, while demands for new ones emerge.

    My point is that while the evils of short siding, bomb and gouge, etc. may mean a great deal to an expert player today, in my view it does absolutely no harm to the game in general, especially if the technology leading to it makes the game in any way easier or more fun for the average person.

    And maybe grooves don’t matter to the average player. But the next rule change, whatever it is, might. Especially if it’s a rollback of the ball, or changes in dimpling to restore curvature of the shots, etc. This rule sets a precedent, perhaps, that is dangerous.

    It’s interesting that in an era where we often hear about the game being dumbed down, as you say, that we have the most dominant player in history. Skill still matters, it’s just not the same skills as we knew in the past.

    But you are definitely correct that it is a difficult balance, trying to cover the needs of experts and average players, all under one rule book.

    I wouldn’t like to try doing it myself. Not by a long shot. But I think once in a while it’s useful to step back from the trenches of these individual rule matters and make sure that the priorities are correct. You probably disagree with me on this, but I wonder if the priorities aren’t out of whack right now.

    Again, thanks.


  4. I’m a 13.2 and not overly concerned about the rule change either way. I’m not a tournament golfer, nobody is going to be measuring the grooves on my wedge to ensure I maintain compliance if this rule goes into effect, and I’m certainly not going to be in any rush to replace my wedges and irons if the manufacturers move to smaller, V style grooves. I think the problem I have with this whole process is that maybe the USGA should have put some thought in to this waaaay back when it was an issue the first time around so that a roll back would not be required now.

    Ultimately, the majority of average golfers, myself included, don’t care what the USGA rules on this topic, because we’re not trying to play for a living, we’re just trying to enjoy ourselves for a few hours on a nice day. I think these people are taking themselves far too seriously in their responsibilities to the game. There’s only one constant in all things, and that constant is change. The USGA will not be able to keep the game from changing with any more success than trying to control the rising and setting of the sun. The only thing they’re doing is putting themselves, as a governing body, in jeopardy of being ignored by the majority of recreational players involved with the game today.

  5. Here’s an excerpt of the letter I wrote to Dick Rugge (USGA’s Senior Technical Director… the one who will probably have the final say in the matter) a couple of weeks ago regarding the way the decision to place limits on grooves will have on the amateur golfer (he responded by enthusiastically directing me to the results of the USGA’s groove testing):

    Mr. Rugge,

    I personally feel that the proposed groove regulations will have a negative effect on the growth and overall success of the game of golf. As guardians of the game, I feel that the USGA and R&A have the responsibility to improve accessibility to the game and not the other way around. I feel that adoptions of the new groove regulations would stunt the growth of the game in part by causing an even greater financial burden on amateur players who fund their own game development and equipment.

    If the new groove regulations were made official not only would all amateur golfers have to purchase new clubs in order to play in USGA amateur events (i.e. the US Amateur and Publinks) or Monday qualify for PGA and Nationwide Tour events, but most certainly, at the beginning, the cost of conforming clubs will be more expensive than non-conforming clubs. One of the suggestions in the ‘Condition for Competition’ is that manufacturers must be sure that all clubs produced after 01 Jan 2010 are conforming, however, starting 01 Jan 2009 the USGA and Tour events will most likely begin to adopt the condition of competition. During that one-year period during which manufacturers are not required to manufacture conforming clubs it is highly likely that they will manufacture them in limited (and therefore even more expensive) quantities. So the financial impact to the amateur competitive golfer is increased with the need to purchase new (and more expensive clubs) just to be eligible to compete. I think the cost to get into and continue playing the game is expensive enough without having to basically toss out an expensive set of irons that may only be two years old and buy brand new ones. Amateur competitive golfers have a hard enough time as it is keeping their games sharp with the current rising cost of green fees, practice balls, lessons, etc.

    To be completely honest I think that if this requirement is sustained, not only will I no longer be able to compete in USGA events, but a large number of amateur golfers will also be unable or choose not to do so. I would think that for USGA championships to be seen as even more legitimate the USGA would look for ways to include more amateur golfers rather than exclude them from competition. The adoption of new groove regulations would definitely prove to exclude talent rather than include it. I for one have enjoyed playing in past USGA championships and hope that I will continue to be able to. If the USGA were so set on adopting these groove regulations as a condition of competition, I believe that it would not provide too significant of an advantage to exclude amateur players from the condition upon Monday qualifying or playing in a USGA amateur event. The USGA could possibly allow some sort of grace period excluding amateurs from the condition of competition for five years or at least until a year after the 01 Jan 2010 date by which all clubs manufactured must conform (thereby allowing prices on conforming clubs to normalize).

    An even better solution that produces no financial burden on the general golf world would be to mandate a graduated rough system for the PGA Tours and USGA Championships. As we have seen in the last two US Opens, this graduated rough system is definitely penal to the errant drives even with current grooves. (For normal Tour events the length of the rough might not need be as severe as the US Open.) In fact, if I remember correctly, the AT&T National implemented a graduated rough similar to a US Open set-up, but not quite as severe and yet the rough was still sufficiently penal to keep scores down and provide a challenge to the world’s best golfers. The only difficulty in preparing courses like this for the TOUR stops would be sending the mowers out on an extra run, and maybe a week or so extra of growing it out. Additionally, this course preparation solution would obviously do away with the cost and necessity of creating a system to ensure conformance to the groove regulations; it seems much more feasible to choose a solution like this that requires no individual oversight than to individually check the grooves on each competitor’s clubs each day of competition. Making the rough more difficult would definitely penalize the elite players (as we have seen evidence of many times), make skill a necessity, and thereby level the playing field between the long crooked driving players and the shorter straight drivers of the ball, but even more importantly it would not burden amateur competitors with an increased financial commitment in order to continue enjoying the competition and game they love.

    I appreciate the time that you and your colleagues take to ensure that the game of golf continues to be enjoyed by the maximum number of players possible, but it makes no sense to exclude possible competitors from the game just because the world’s elite, polished players aren’t being penalized enough from the rough. As it is, golf is gaining in general popularity and more and more people are starting to watch network telecasts of tournaments. I think everyone wants that to continue, but lets be honest, it’s not near as fun to watch someone hit the green from the rough and roll off the back than it is to see someone stick a shot from the deep rough to five feet and then make birdie.

    By the way, I am one of those competitive amateurs that would basically be knocked out of playing competitively. My wife got me my first set of (Costco) clubs for our anniversary last April (2006). By the end of the Summer I had gone from shooting in the 110’s to shooting in the 90’s. I bought myself a “real” set of clubs and now, a year and a half later, I’m shooting in the mid 70’s and shot par 71 once. (My index will be a 4.8 at tomorrow’s revision.) Obviously it is financially difficult for us to be married college students supporting a 6 mo. old son and play amateur competitive golf. The groove rules will make it more difficult.

  6. It’s interesting that in an era where we often hear about the game being dumbed down, as you say, that we have the most dominant player in history.

    I know you’re responding to Allan here, but my $0.02 (or less) on that is simply this: any change that reverses the “dumbing down” of the game would make Tiger even more dominant. When skill is emphasized, the skillful will separate themselves.

    @Sua: The USGA and the Rules of Golf are already ignored by the vast majority of golfers.

    @Greg: You’re probably in the minority. Good golfers tend to replace their wedges fairly frequently, and a new set of irons ($900 or so) isn’t out of reach for most low-handicap golfers, particularly those who compete in USGA events. I live in one of the cheapest areas of the U.S. and our most inexpensive country clubs charge four times that just to belong. Sure, it’ll be an added expense – no argument on that. But most of those golfers are going to be factoring $900 in to club and driving range memberships, travel (gas), golf balls, new drivers or hybrids or 3Ws, gloves, cart fees… and on and on. $900 isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket, but it’s not going to break the piggy banks of most competitive low-handicap amateurs, either.

  7. I have researched some more on the potential groove-rules adjustments and become more educated so as to change my views a little:

    1. Motive – My opinion remains unchanged on this one. I do think that the ruling bodies’ attention is being put on television covered golf events more than it should. Who will play as well in the future if even more beginners quit before they get a hold on the game. Easier to use equipment does not dictate the skill of the best athletes, competition drives improvement. The learning curve for golf is still very intensely steep for most beginners and the cost of equipment due to price markups overly high. Making current equipment unconforming will add to the frustration. I believe the way the game is played, be it important, is less of an issue than how enjoyable and popular it is to the masses. It may be argued that golf is very widespread. I have found that many people have played golf, but only play sporadically IF they plan on playing again. I know very few people who play often or regularly.

    2. Statement of Proposed Change – “Groove edge sharpness to be limited to an effective minimum radius of .010 inches… limit the total cross-sectional area of a groove divided by the groove pitch (width plus separation) to 0.0025 square inches per inch.” USGA rules seem to be getting more highly technical. If proving actual conformity of a golf club stays as difficult as it has been recently, buying conforming equipment will be an uncertain endeavor. Many popular equipment companies have now been shown to have sold accidentally (supposedly) unconforming clubs. If the rules are so specific that unconforming equipment turns up like this, I say the rules are focusing in to much on particular specifications regarding game changing performance and needs to restrict other features that enhance the same effect instead. If following the rules of golf becomes even more difficult, it will become virtually impossible for some less astute or intelligent golfers to follow the rules completely. Some well intended, rule following golfers may abandon the notion of strict obeisance to the rules.

    3. Testing – Big opinion change on this one. The testing done by the USGA seems to be thorough enough. I have heard differently in the past regarding some rulings and the testing involved, but the information given by the USGA on its methods makes them seem reasonable on this particular subject. They have implemented a highly facetted plan that considers many variables in testing and controls them to a relatively high degree so as to create reasonably accurate predictions.

    4. Interpretation of Test Data – I believe that the USGA may be overreacting to the obvious changes in spin generation and launch angle with modern “U-grooves.” The differences in performance may be great, but apart from a noticeable increase in eight iron spin while in medium rough, the game still plays in a similar way. For the most part, getting in longer grass still effects shots in a proportional way between the clubs. The performance that comes with “U-grooves” may be more desirable for landings on the green, but I think that is less of a problem to correct than making the game more aggravating for first timers is worth. Make no mistake, I think the differences grooves make on play are making a negative impact on the game, but a complete reversal of the problem may be impossible to enforce in a overall constructive manner for the sport. The changes in strategy promoted by modern “U-grooves” probably don’t cause the excelling player to quit the game. Beginners to golf are teetering on the edge of quitting many times in my experience.

    5. Implementing a Change to Promote Greater Emphasis on Shot Accuracy – This has not really been done yet by the ruling bodies, but the current proposal is claimed to risk making much current equipment hopelessly unconforming. Why not make a change in conforming equipment rules that allows future unconforming grooves to be modified without undue difficulty into grooves that both conform and perform more traditionally?

  8. People either get into golf or they don’t or they play 3 times per year – whatever the equipment or rules are.

    I’d like to see the pros and good players having to make adjustments to strategy like – now i’m in the right light rough 140 out and I can’t stop it over that bunker to the front right pin, I can I stop it on the back left, but that’s a tough two putt down to that hole, or is it better to play short left and go for the up and down.

    And if equipment was properly regulated, you could see this on 6,000 ro 6,500 yard courses without 6-inch rough – that require less land, less maintenance, less time to play and cost less.

    Choppers aren’t even going to think about that stuff, they worried about putting the club on the ball. I’m sure we can have big drivers and chunky irons that help them get the ball in the air just like now, while also reducing distance and spin.

  9. The problem here as I see it is the USGA isn’t protecting all golfers. What the USGA is doing is protecting the Old Clubs fo this country which the people in control of the USGA are members of. They do not want their clubs to become out dated. To hell with the rest of golfing society is basicly what is being said. The USGA wants to hold it’s tournements at certain places so the rules will be adjusted to allow that to happen.
    Change the ball make wound balata’s be tournement balls. If have to control spin all the pro’s will not make such a violent swing at the ball. Also wound ball do not travel as far as pinnacle’s which is what a pro v is, but it spins. The USGA is afraid to take on the ball companies. If it takes on the club makers it won’t have a big fight. Why?, cause if make a certain groove illegal within 3-5 yrs people have to buy new clubs. That is if you want to play in your club championship. So its a win for the makers as well, that is why no one complained.

  10. As far as the motive regarding this potential rules change, I have heard so many reasons why this adjustment would directly or indirectly benefit the USGA ruling body that I can’t remember all of the different angles sited. Most of the theories require a level of scandal or conspiracy. I believe that many people make convoluted decisions influenced by benefit to themselves, but don’t have the guile or indecency to go all out scandalous or arrange a conspiracy.

    Thus I have leaned on a simple imbalance of priorities in the USGA. The risk of being claimed incompetent for the leadership of controled golf in the United States is negligible in reality. I don’t think members of the USGA would or are taking steps that would give sound proof of corruption if made public. People seem to expect the worst of others when they have a lack of information. Many of the accusations are probably just fueled by this tendency.

    One thing about the theories that is tell-tale is that some are so offended or disturbed by this proposal of the ruling bodies that such negative thoughts of motive come to the surface of their conscious minds at a dominate level. In my first-person experience, another common reaction to this proposed change is a feeling of impending peril and accepting of no control over the ruling bodies’ decisions. I have said that this rules change could push “little golfers” off the edge. I don’t mean that people will be quitting by the droves, I just mean that it will further increase and enhance the already troubling levels of inactive or no longer golfers.

    I am pleased in the level of familiarity with the possible groove rules that the contributers of this blog have displayed. It seems that every non-vindictive point I could have to say has been brought up now. I am also glad Mr. Little wrote to the USGA. I should have done my duty too.

    One thing I would like to hear that I can’t fabricate myself is a thoery on how improving the state of golf would benefit the members of the ruling bodies. I would think that they should be rewarded for good work and have a motivation to do so beyond “I am already getting paid to do this at a regular, inconsiquential level.” I suppose they are getting a salary already.

    One thing I do have to say that may be inappropriate or emotionally caused is that golf is still a rich man’s sport in my eyes. Many already players of the game seem out of touch with the very tight budgets that some people have regardless of how industrious they are in their work or responsible they are with their money.

    I have a friend that is in his sixties (should be well established and preparing for retirement) that has a beautiful swing, is a recognizably good person, works hard, is frugal, and didn’t have too many children. When I have played with him, he had a mismatched four club set assembled from pawn shop and thrift store clubs in a raggy kid’s sunday bag. We played at a weed filled course with ground so hard that a small golf tee would break before it would get in the tee box most times. While I walked to the ball, he would go through the dence weeds and bordering forest searching for golf balls. He seems to play totally from found balls. Golf balls can be bought for 45 cents.

    He loves the game and is involved with it. I know that he would spend more on the game if he could. He almost took a pro-bono club job I offered him for just the bare cost of parts (much, much lower). He still couldn’t afford it realistically. The cost of the game is difinitely unfair to him. I saw one man spend an absolutely ridiculous $1200 on one golf club in one instance. That is a huge gap in budget.

  11. For the low handicappers who seem very proud of their number, if modern gooves changed their game, then they should expect to add several points to that hard-earned number. And if it doesn’t affect high handicappers then the gap should narrow. The 20s will stay 20s but the 2s will be 10s. That will make a lot of people happy 😉

    I love watching the Pros shoot at pins and make it stop, the same as I like watching basketball players dunk and baseball players hit homeruns. I can’t dunk or hit a baseball 450 feet, but that doesn’t mean I want a 12-foot high basket and I dead baseball just so the Pros can’t either.

    Is it really more fun watching a Pro bump-and-run instead of flop-and-stop? I think it is just different.

    And as far as the score relative to par, that is just the members kidding themselves that because they shoot 74 from the blues they are almost as good as the pros who shoot 68 from the tips. Professional golf is still played head-to-head, they do not get paid according to how far below par they shoot.

    Equipment is definitely better, but let’s not underestimate how much better the players are because of their physical training that was absent 100 years ago.

  12. I have no qualms about the USGA protecting the integrity of the game — meaning that a single set of rules are promulgated to apply to all and that manfacturers, players, tournament sponsors, etc. all comply with those rules. I also don’t have a problem with the USGA establishing rules that freeze the status quo or set a propsective limit (as was the case with COR and driver size). And my following comments are in no way intended to suggest that the USGA is acting out of anything other than a true concern “for the good of the game.”

    However, I’m entitled to my opinion, too, and I do have a problem with what I perceive to be one of the most widely articulated rationale for the roll back on grooves. By that, I am referring to the idea that today’s professional golfers (acting entirely within the current rules, I might add) are not challenged by rough as much as they were at some point in the game’s past, and that a rule change is needed to restore playing characteristics to a prior state that the USGA has determined is the preferred or ideal way golf “should” be played. But that line of reasoning has no logical stopping point. Why stop at grooves, why only go back to playing characteristics of 10 years ago? I’m sure that when golfers were using hickory shafts and featheries the rough was even more of a penalty. Why not try to re-create that?

    As a single digit handicapper, I think I appreciate even more the fact that using the same equipment and golf ball (more or less), these guys can do things that are physically beyond my reach. Isn’t that the comparison that’s most meaningful to the average golfer — not between how pros play the game today and how they played it 20 years ago — but the difference between how they play it and how I play it now?

    And it’s not as if guys can get away with bombing it all over the course and still score (if that were the case, the LDA guys would rule the tour). Deep grooves aren’t going to do you much good if your behind a tree (and, in fact, it takes more skill today to work shots around or under things because of the equipment). It’s not simply a matter of driving the ball as far as you can and then gouging it out. You’ve still got to be reasonably accurate to get away with it. There still is a place for “shotmaking” (although why isn’t being able to hit a ball 330 yards high and straight considered shotmaking?). And then you still have to be able to putt.

    If golf is a sport (or at least an athletic event) then power is/should always be rewarded. If you don’t have power, you better be very accurate. If you have power and accuracy, then you should be entitled to the biggest advantages. And if you don’t have either, well then tough.

    In fact, more so than any other sport I would say golf still has and will always have room for more playing styles and body types than any other sport. But even with that, you’d be fooling yourself if you thought that professinal golfers aren’t going to keep getting bigger and stronger and hit the ball farther and higher. Does that mean that when the average golfer on tour is 6′ 3″, 250 lbs, and can hoist a wedge 170 yards out of deep rough, the USGA is going to roll the equipment back even farther?

    I just think that a rule change that seeks to turn back the clock and sends a message to the average golfer (or at least those who care about the rules) that golf needs to be more difficult is not promoting the growth of the game. And while I don’t mind courses being tricked up to force a score at or above par (which is an arbitrary number) a couple of times per year (British Open excluded), if I really want to see guys backing up all day long I can just watch my buddies in my Saturday foursome.

    A rule change that seeks to restore playing characteristics of a previous era sets an entirely arbitrary precedent. Further, a message to the average golfer that golf needs to be made more difficult is not promoting the growth of the game, IMHO. Like SuaSponteMN said:

    There’s only one constant in all things, and that constant is change. The USGA will not be able to keep the game from changing with any more success than trying to control the rising and setting of the sun. The only thing they’re doing is putting themselves, as a governing body, in jeopardy of being ignored by the majority of recreational players involved with the game today.

  13. The 20s will stay 20s but the 2s will be 10s.

    I don’t think that’s a very good guess at what would happen, no. The better players will adjust and score just about the same as they do now. They’ll take shots at the centers of greens rather than at the pins, which at a low-handicap level, still results in roughly even par play – for every birdie, they come up just short in a bunker or something and bogey.

  14. I don’t think that’s an appropriate guess at what would happen, no. The better players will adjust and score just about the same as they do now.

    If that is the case and assuming you consider Tour Pros “better players”, how is changing the grooves going to effect anything? Protect the integrity of the game, protect par, protect the reputation of the courses… If a low handicapper can adapt their game to equipment changes, the Tour Pros should be able to do the same. So why change it at all if it will not effect the target group.

    If the point is not to cause higher scores, but to cause lower ball flight, then I don’t get it. Personally I like watching them put their approach close. The British Open is for watching putting from 40 yards off the green.

  15. If that is the case and assuming you consider Tour Pros “better players”, how is changing the grooves going to effect anything?

    Because the pros aren’t likely to bogey as often as they birdie when going after tucked flags like a low-handicap golfer. They are more capable and more consistent.

    If a low handicapper can adapt their game to equipment changes, the Tour Pros should be able to do the same. So why change it at all if it will not effect the target group.

    I never suggested they’d adapt in the same way. Pros would – the USGA seems to believe – adapt by placing more emphasis on being accurate from the tee.

  16. Mike:

    Your statement is right in line with what I’m saying.

    Like you, I agree with having over-arching rules like the ODS, limits on club weight and length, etc., to prevent large, destructive changes in performance that would make all golf courses obsolete, etc. These sorts of restraints are in place, and most scientific people believe that within these constraints, the potential for further performance enhancements through equipment alone is very, very limited. So golf is in good shape as far as this is concerned.

    The USGA’s research is fantastic, and they did a superb job of demonstrating the performance differences between U grooves and V grooves. However, in order to show these differences, they had to conduct experiments. It’s the only way you show real differences with any validity. What remains to be seen is how well the experiments predict performance and affect player behavior in the real world. We don’t know the answer to this yet. As has been pointed out, many shots in the rough are un-recoverable because of things other than the grass itself (i.e., obstructions from trees), so changing the grooves won’t affect every shot hit there. Also, the extent to which players actually try to stop shots near short sided pins from lies in the rough isn’t precisely known, so the effect of changing grooves – the magnitude of the change – isn’t known, either. We think that pros are spinning everything out of the rough and ignoring the fairway, because we see dramatic examples of it on TV from time to time. But our observations aren’t always correct, proportional representations of reality in a quantitative sense, so again we don’t know what will happen.

    And of course my main point is “so what?” So they can spin it from the rough. That doesn’t remove all of the penalty of the rough. Even though they can spin it, I would guess that they can’t do so as reliably and predictably as they can from clean lies, so there’s still a penalty there. Do we know that every pro is proficient enough to get the spin from balls hit from the rough? Maybe better ballstrikers are better at this than less skilled players, even among a population of touring pros. Also, as I said, the evolution of equipment always changes playing styles and strategies. Nobody today laments the loss of the special challenges inherent in hickory shafts, for example.

    Personally, I think we are seeing an honest, genuine attempt by the USGA to restore the penalty of the rough, but also something more. I really think this is but a trial balloon, a first step in plans to try to return some aspects of equipment performance back to 1960-70 levels. I would be very surprised if they don’t try to change performance characteristics of modern balls, once they have completed their analysis of golf balls. Many complain about the USGA dragging their feet with the ball study. Actually, it worries me, because I think they’re gearing up for a big fight.

    But another motive is probably there, too, and I think it’s a pride/ego thing. Like many aging golf champions, or perhaps merely influenced by them, the USGA simply doesn’t like seeing modern players play golf in a way they weren’t capable of in their heyday, and they think that’s “wrong.”

  17. It has nothing to do with “ego-fueled compulsion” and I think it’s somewhat silly to second-guess the reasoning the USGA has given.

    How can you be sure? And I don’t think it’s “silly” at all to second guess their reasoning. Every golfer has the right to question whether a change in the rules is reasonable or justified.

    I understand what the USGA believes is happening with elite players using U-grooves, and I understand how the research supports their claims. What I am questioning is whether this issue requires any action at all, and whether their intended action is really good for the game.

  18. How can you be sure?

    I can be as sure as you can, which is exactly my point. You’re making a lot of statements that you simply can’t back up or that you’ve arrived at by specious (at best) means.

  19. lots of good points here which i don’t want to repeat, but one that no one has mentioned.

    Since this is a rule which predominantly affects pro players, theoretically, this is an issue which should be managed by the PGA, not the USGA. The PGA should be the group optimizing the pro game and the USGA should should working for the recreational golfer.

    Problem is, the PGA is run by the players who don’t want hard setups and want very low scores. The PGA will never do anything that prevents low scores.

    In a way, the real issue here is do you want a 2-tiered system of rules– one for pros and one for amateur golfers?

    As a result, you will likely have rules that have inconsistant enforcement and create more confusion than anything else. (like the GPS range finder rule does right now).

  20. The good news, in any event, is the Rule change applies to Tour Players, not the skilled amateurs and up. The change for the non tour is to be grandfathered in over many years, maybe nine if memory serves. Most everyone will replace their irons within that time and as stated, most amateurs will not notice much difference (only because we are skilled enough to avoid high roughs…in our dreams).

  21. Wachesaw:

    You bring up an interesting point, something I am not clear on at the moment. Yes, there is a grandfather period, and the rule is likely to be initiated as a “condition of competition” only. However, I am unclear whether, for instance, posting scores for handicap purposes will be “legal” with non-conforming grooves, once the rule change goes into effect.

  22. Will the club manufacturers reap the benefi of a rule where we have to throw away our old Big Bertha Irons and buy those $900 a set new irons with conforming grooves?

  23. The USGA proposed that the rule would be enforced for competition involving “expert players” in 2009. Then, in 2010, the rule would apply to all golfers regarding equipment manufactured after that date. Equipment manufactured before 2010 could be considered conforming for an “at least 10 year” period when in non-competition use. For competition use after 2010, equipment manufactured before would have to conform fully to be allowed. That is my understanding.

    The transition is a little confusing and could take (at least)until January 1st, 2019 to complete. Nothing official should actually happen until 2009, but the unofficial effects started when the proposition was made public. I assume that in 2010 new equipment must be fully conforming for a proper handicap, but old equipment is allowed to have previously conforming grooves. Later (maybe 2019), I assume that previously conforming grooves will become improper for handicap with no allowances.

    The following is a strange theory. When playing out of competition, players could buy old clubs just to be able to get around the new rules. Perhaps they would resharpen the grooves. With this strategy, they could get rewarded with better scores. This could continue to be possible for the nine years between 2010 and 2019. This loop-hole could increase the demand of certain old equipment by serious (though deceitful) golfers during this time and create more pressure for the new equipment to catch up again. After around 2019, that equipment would officially be unconforming and the benefits probably surpassed. That equipment (maybe a large portion made between a long period) would devalue drastically and previously classic clubs be made untasteful. This is a lot of coulds and maybes. I just find that fictional series of events interesting and darkly amusing. 😈

  24. I have played golf for over 40 years. It seems like my index has been at 9.2 like a woolly Mammoth in an ancient glacier–frozen forever! Nevertheless as an avid weekend warrior, I search like heck for the a better “groove” one more “dimple”, one less dimple, a surer grip, a larger head for my driver and a truer roll from my putter. Why make my weekend a little harder? I don’t get it! Is the sanctity of the game truly imperiled by square grooves? My game isn’t. My playing group, mostly in 2 to 6 index range are looking for the same thing. An edge to improve their games. Something that has never, ever been offered by the USGA who ought to stick with tricking up to 19th century golf courses to embarass (sic) 21st century players like they are good at. The USGA has never regulated a better game. When Jack Nicklaus used to complain about the way “these new balls fly off the club head” back in the 80’s I thought, “gee this guy must not have the right ball contract, because if he did he would still be out-driving everyone. What balls is he talking about anyway? Where can I get them?” Still the USGA didn’t make the manufacturers make a shorter ball. Believe me I have been looking for those balls Nicklaus complained about ever since. I have to trust the manufacturers and I pay my money and go out and try to win my $2 Nassau! Like the old Ping Square grooves of the 80’s (Tom Kite vs. Karsten Manufacturing) they ought to let the Supreme Court decide. If anyone on the higher court is carrying anything more than a 10 they will say “All golfers who have them (square grooves) can continue to play with them. Then, after I get mine, then they must never be manufactured again!

    I like that.

  25. I definately don’t understant the full depth of the new situation, but i don’t think this is good for the recreational golfer (consumer) because so many of the players out there today like to use what the pros use. But what i essentialy want to know is … will there be two categories of the market, one for the pros, and pne for the recreational golfer who doesn’t care about the grooves. I think the market should be the same for everyone who plays competition or others would have an advantage over others because of the grooves they have. I think the game of golf is fine and the change is not necessary.

  26. Maybe we, as the majority of golfers, should ban the U.S.G.A and the R & A from interfering in our amateur competions and leave them to find ways of making the pros worse like make them wear high heels and blindfolds. Meanwhile we can just concentrate on the game instead of measuring each others grooves and checking to see if we have got the right pants on.

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